One of my employees has said something very rude about the company on Facebook. Is there anything I can do?
The best place to start is to check whether your contracts of employment or staff handbook contain a social media policy. A policy sets out what is acceptable behaviour and what is not when it comes to social media, including Facebook and Twitter. You should make it clear that the policy covers your employees’ personal use of social media, not just business use. It should also explain the consequences of breaching the policy which may include disciplinary action and, in the most serious cases, dismissal.
If you do not have a social media policy, you can still take action against the employee though it might not be quite so clear cut. Either way, if the Company’s reputation could have been damaged, other employees offended or harassed, or if confidential information has been disclosed, you should carry out a disciplinary investigation. If there is enough evidence, you can then take disciplinary action against the employee. You must ensure that you follow a fair process, which will include inviting the employee to a meeting (with a companion) and giving them an opportunity to state their case before you reach a decision. You should also offer the employee a right of appeal.
In one recent case, a Tribunal decided that it was fair to dismiss an employee who had made distasteful sexual comments about a female colleague on Facebook. The employee argued that the comments he made were a joke and that he had not intended to harass his colleague but the Tribunal agreed with the employer that it was gross misconduct. The employee also tried to argue that his employer had violated his human rights to respect for private life and freedom of expression. Interestingly however, the Tribunal said that, by putting the comments on Facebook, he had made them public and therefore he could no longer consider them to be private.
In order to avoid such situations, our advice is to ensure you have a clear policy to set boundaries for the use of social media by your employees, whether for business or personal use. Without such a policy, your employees may believe that what they post or blog in their own time has nothing to do with work. With a policy in place, you can expect fewer problems, and be in a stronger position to deal with any problems that do crop up.
For more information on drafting a social media policy for your business, please contact our Employment Law Team on 01904 528200.